Grunge In the isolated city of Seattle during the mid 1980’s a new sound and attitude was developing. Although it didn’t yet have a coined term it would later become know as Grunge, originally a tounge-in cheek term for the pungent guitar noise propagated by the cultish independent label Sub Pop (Grunge). This mix of 70’s metal and early 80’s punk blasted into mainstream America and brought the hard rock sound of the 70’s back to life, but the sudden, unexpected and to some unwanted, fame and popularity would prove to much for it and like so many pop culture movements before, it would fade away under the pressure(History). Grunge owes it’s start in part to the area in which it was created, Seattle was isolated, untouched by major record labels and looked over by the major touring acts at the time. It’s atmosphere and attitude built up the Grunge sound and allowed it to develop before it was discovered.
Then in the early 90’s a small trio who called themselves Nirvana burst into the mainstream and set the record charts on their ears.The gates were opened but soon the rush proved to much and Grunge was lost in a flood of it’s own stardom, dead to most it slunk back to the isolation it spawned from. While the isolation of Seattle was vital to the development of Grunge it may have also been the key to it’s downfall.
Without the stain of major labels in the city the bands didn’t know what to expect from them. The freedom of no major record labels allowed musicians to make music to please their friends (Grunge City). The dreary rainy atmosphere of Seattle resulted in grunge, it was the sound of a group of friends going into a basement on a rainy day drinking beer and jamming.
(Grunge City) Everyone was friends, It [wasn’t] a cutthroat sort of thing it was a Love Battery put out a cool single! Great, lets go see ’em!..It’s not a competition thing (Grunge City).Grunge wasn’t a produced sound, the independent record labels that started to pop up where usually friends of the band members or the band’s themselves. No one signed contracts, a shake of a hand and the band and label were now in business together. Unlike the large rock bands of the 70’s or the pop bands of today Grunge bands didn’t go seeking major record labels, they played to crowds of drunken friends and locals. They would play in clubs and bars where the crowd would get drunk and thrash about wildly. The Seattle phenomenon wouldn’t have been possible without the network of college radio, fanzines, and indie contributors that sprang up in the wake of punk rock (Grunge City).
The bands never expected to get big, most had a tight following of fans who were all that kept them going.The local fans had a lot to do with the development of Grunge. Grunge fans were the first fans to create fanzines. Fanzines were cheaply created magazines used to spread news about their favorite band, where they would be playing next, what their message was or just about the band members themselves. This small following of fans didn’t put any pressure on a band, when they got up to perform it was to have fun and see how wild they could get the crowd.
This lack of pressure and knowledge of how corporate America worked was a key factor in the quick downfall of Grunge.In 1991 Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul were at the top of the record charts but their music had little in common with reality down in the streets (Rock’s Reluctant). There a generation was coming of age in a world of dysfunctional families, diminished dreams, drugs and violence (Rock’s Reluctant). So when Nirvana exploded into mainstream America that generation was quick to accept their message. Before Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Tad, Green River or even Mudhoney there was one band that influenced the sound of grunge more then any other. The Pixies, though often overlooked, were the major influence of a lot of grunge bands.They started the grunge sound with the soft slow intro that would blast into crunching guitars and heavy drums. They inspired the future bands and made them what they are.
The pulsating sound of grunge made teens go wild and be themselves. Though some of their music had that heavy 80’s sound at times almost like the B-52’s they had put a twist to it that gave it that almost grunge sound. Kurt Cobain himself had stated that ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was nothing more then a bunch of stolen Pixies riffs changed around a bit.
The Pixies themselves broke up before the Grunge movement in the early 90’s. Their bassist Kim Deal and her sister went on to form the band The Breeders, and the lead singer of the Pixies is still playing as Frank Black and the Catholics. Actually Seattle peaked back in 1989 when there had been some small exposure of the Grunge sound, due in part to Sub Pop’s efforts, but the bands where still in town (Grunge City).
That small exposure quickly faded and everyone thought that would be the end of Seattle’s exposure. Sub Pop became the major promoter of grunge and the Seattle scene, they modeled themselves on Motown Records and SST trying to get exposure to a scene they felt was going to be huge. They started by producing a three-EP box set known as Sub Pop 200. The music could have fit onto one record but the two headmen behind Sub Pop, Bruce Pavitt and Jon Poneman wanted to send a message that it was just overkill – sheer overkill and maximum hype(Grunge City).Then Nirvana blasted their way into mainstream America with their second album Nevermind, more specifically their song Smells Like Teen Spirit.
MTV began playing the video and the radio stations picked the song up very quickly. ‘Nevermind’ soon knocked ‘Dangerous’ out of the no. 1 spot suddenly there were teenagers in plaid shirts and ripped jeans around every corner(Rock’s Reluctant). Nirvana appealed to a mass of young fans who were tired of false idols like Madonna and Michael Jackson their fans had never had a dangerous rock-and-roll hero to call their own(The Poet) ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ soon became heralded as the slackers theme song.Though Kurt’s idea for the song came from one of his friends. One night while drinking his friend had told him that he smelled like Teen Spirit. Kurt having never heard of the deodorant Teen Spirit had thought she meant he could inspire a generation, which is what he went on to do.
After that major label record companies began a bidding war over Nirvana before they finally signed with DGC. For major record labels, the gold rush [was] on Northwest bands were getting signed at the rate of one a week(Grunge City).Bands began moving to Seattle in hopes of getting noticed now that all the major labels started scouting there. In the words of the Supersucker’s lead singer Eddie Spaghetti grunge and punk bands had become like a construction worker looking for a union as they all began moving were there was a chance at work(Grunge City). Seattle act’s, [owed] much of [their] success to Cobain’s groundbreaking trio (Degrees).At this point corporate America was going grunge crazy. It took every opportunity it could to make money off of the grunge look and sound. Fashion designers put grunge on the runway for their fall lineups, and Grunge clothes became hot items in stores.
In an interview with MTV Courtney Love of the band Hole said I have had the sweater for 7 years and now that it’s on the runway you are gonna sell it for $1000? People were buying ripped designer jeans for upwards of a hundred dollars(Hype!). Everyone started trading in their spandex for ripped jeans and flannel shirts.Everyone went crazy searching for the next Nirvana. Record labels like Warner Bros. were yelling get us the next Nirvana in hopes of being the next label to make millions off the grunge phenomenon(Searching).
Everyone wanted to find the next big punk/grunge act. Bands that had never gotten any notice before were being scouted like sports players.Record companies started flying to where ever a hot grunge band was playing, one talent scout said he walked into a club, saw 20 other A people and left(Searching).
The phone’s of little known punk and grunge acts began ringing constantly always some record-company guy, or maybe a lawyer or a music publisher or any number of other people trying to cash in on the grunge sound(Searching). Small bands that didn’t even want exposure were being hounded by record labels and media. And right when the Seattle Scene seemed to reach a saturation point the soundtrack to the movie Singles was released, a definitive compilation that justified all the Northern overexposure(Seattle Sound). In 1992 other bands began to grab some of the spotlight, Pearl Jam and Sound Graden soon became the next big thing(Rock’s Reluctant).Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam identified with the dysfunctional teens he played to.
His songs reflected this, often commenting on how society had failed it’s young(Rock’s Reluctant). One song in particula …